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moting idleness and a love of festivity, proscribed these sports, and excommunicated the performers. But finding that no regard was paid to their censures, they changed their plan, and determined to take these recreations into their own hands. They turned actors; and instead of profane mummeries, presented stories taken from legends or the Bible. This was the origin of sacred comedy. The death of Saint Catharine, acted by the monks of Saint Dennis, rivalled the popularity of the professed players. Musick was admitted into the churches, which served as theatres for the representation of holy farces. The festivals among the French, called. La fete de Foux, de l'Ane,and des Innocens, at length became greater favourites, as they certainly were more capricious and absurd, than the interludes of the buffoons at the fairs. These are the ideas of a judicious French writer now living, who has investigated the history of human manners with great comprehension and sagacity."
"Voltaire's theory on this subject is also very ingenious, and quite new. Religious plays, he supposes, came originally from Constantinople;" where the old Grecian stage continued to flourish in some degree, and the tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides were represented, till the fourth century. About that period, Gregory Nazianzen, an Arch
6" At Constantinople," as Mr. Warton has elsewhere observed, "it seems that the stage flourished much, under Justinian and Theodora, about the year 540: for in the Basilical codes we have the oath of an actress, μη αναχωρειν της πορνείας. Tom. VII. p. 682. edit. Fabrot, Græco-Lat. The ancient Greek fathers, particularly Saint Chrysostom, are full of declamation against the drama; and complain, that the people heard a comedian with much more pleasure than a preacher of the gospel." Warton's History of English Poetry, Vol. I. p. 244, n.
bishop, a poet, and one of the fathers of the church, banished Pagan plays from the stage at Constantinople, and introduced stories from the Old and New Testament. As the ancient Greek tragedy was a religious spectacle, a transition was made on the same plan; and the chorusses were turned into Christian hymns. Gregory wrote many sacred dramas for this purpose, which have not survived those inimitable compositions over which they triumphed for a time: one, however, his tragedy called Xpolos warxwv, or Christ's Passion, is still extant. In the prologue it is said to be an imitation of Euripides, and that this is the first time the Virgin Mary had been introduced on the stage. The fashion of acting spiritual dramas, in which at first a due degree of method and decorum was preserved, was at length adopted from Constantinople by the Italians; who framed, in the depth of the dark ages, on this foundation, that barbarous species of theatrical representation called MYSTERIES, or sacred comedies, and which were soon after received in France. This opinion will acquire probability, if we consider the early commercial intercourse between Italy and Constantinople: and although the Italians, at the time when they may be supposed to have imported plays of this nature, did not understand the Greek language, yet they could understand, and consequently could imitate, what they saw."
"In defence of Voltaire's hypothesis, it may be further observed, that The feast of Fools, and of the Ass, with other religious farces of that sort, so common in Europe, originated at Constantinople. They were instituted, although perhaps under other names, in the Greek Church, about the year 990, by Theophylact, patriarch of Contantinople, pro
bably with a better design than is imagined by the ecclesiastical annalists; that of weaning the minds of the people from the pagan ceremonies, by the substitution of christian spectacles partaking of the same spirit of licentiousness.-To those who are accustomed to contemplate the great picture of human follies, which the unpolished ages of Europe hold up to our view, it will not appear surprising, that the people who were forbidden to read the events of the sacred history in the Bible, in which they were faithfully and beautifully related, should at the same time be permitted to see them represented on the stage, disgraced with the grossest improprieties, corrupted with inventions and additions of the most ridiculous kind, sullied with impurities, and expressed in the language of the lowest farce."
"On the whole, the Mysteries appear to have originated among the ecclesiasticks; and were most probably first acted with any degree of form by the monks. This was certainly the case in the English monasteries. I have already mentioned the play of Saint Catharine, performed at Dunstable Abbey, by the novices in the eleventh century, under the superintendance of Geoffrey a Parisian ecclesiastick: and the exhibition of the Passion by the mendicant friers of Coventry and other places. Instances have
"In some regulations given by Cardinal Wolsey to the monasteries of the Canons regular of St. Austin, in the year 1519, the brothers are forbidden to be lusores aut mimici, players or mimicks. But the prohibition means that the monks should not go abroad to exercise these arts in a secular and mercenary capacity. See Annal. Burtonenses, p. 437."
In 1589, however, an injunction made in the MEXICAN COUNCIL was ratified at Rome, to prohibit all clerks from playing in the Mysteries, even on Corpus Christi day. See History of English Poetry, Vol. II. p. 201.
been given of the like practice among the French. The only persons who could now read were in the religious societies; and various circumstances, pe-, culiarly arising from their situation, profession, and institution, enabled the monks to be the sole performers of these representations.'
"As learning encreased, and was more widely disseminated, from the monasteries, by a natural and easy transition, the practice migrated to schools. and universities, which were formed on the monastick plan, and in many respects resembled the ecclesiastical bodies." 998
Candlemas-Day, or The Slaughter of the Innocents, written by Ihan Parfre, in 1512, Mary Magdalene, produced in the same year, and The Promises of God, written by John Bale, and printed in 1538, are curious specimens of this early species of drama. But the most ancient as well as most complete collection of this kind is, The Chester Mysteries, which were written by Ralph Higden, a monk of the Abbey of Chester, about the year 1328,!
Warton's History of English Poetry, Vol. II. pp. 366, et
9 MSS. Digby, 133, Bibl. Bodl.
1 MSS. Harl. 2013, &c. "Exhibited at Chester in the year 1327, at the expence of the different trading companies of that city. The Fall of Lucifer, by the Tanners. The Creation, by the Drapers. The Deluge, by the Dyers. Abraham, Melchisedech, and Lot, by the Barbers. Moses, Balak, and Balaam, by the Cappers. The Salutation and Nativity, by the Wrightes. The Shepherds feeding their Flocks by Night, by the Painters and Glaziers. The three Kings, by the Vintners. The Oblation of the three Kings, by the Mercers. The killing of the Innocents, by the Goldsmiths. The Purification, by the Blacksmiths. The Temptation, by the Butchers. The last Supper, by the Bakers. The blind Men and Lazarus, by the Glovers. Jesus and the Lepers, by the Corvesarys. Christ's Passion, by the Bowyers, Fletchers, and Ironmongers. Descent into Hell, by the
of which a particular account will be found below. I am tempted to transcribe a few lines from the third of these pageants, The Deluge, as a specimen of the ancient Mysteries.
The first scenical direction is,-" Et primo in aliquo supremo loco, sive in nubibus, si fieri poterat, loquatur DEUS ad Noe, extra archam existente cum
Cooks and Innkeepers. The Resurrection, by the Skinners. The Ascension, by the Taylors. The Election of S. Mathias, sending of the Holy Ghost, &c. by the Fishmongers. Antichrist, by the Clothiers. Day of Judgment, by the Websters. The reader will perhaps smile at some of these combinations. This is the substance and order of the former part of the play. God enters creating the world; he breathes life into Adam, leads him into Paradise, and opens his side while sleeping. Adam and Eve appear naked, and not ashamed, and the old serpent enters lamenting his fall. He converses with Eve. She eats of the forbidden fruit, and gives part to Adam. They propose, according to the stage-direction, to make themselves subligacula a foliis quibus tegamus pudenda. Cover their nakedness with leaves, and converse with God. God's curse. The serpent exit hissing. They are driven from Paradise by four angels and the cherubim with a flaming sword. Adam appears digging the ground, and Eve spinning. Their children Cain and Abel enter: the former kills his brother. Adam's lamentation. Cain is banished," &c. Warton's History of English Poetry, Vol. I. p. 243.
Mr. Warton observes in a note in his second volume, p. 180, that "if it be true that these Mysteries were composed in the year 1328, and there was so much difficulty in obtaining the Pope's permission that they might be presented in English, a presumptive proof arises, that all our Mysteries before that period were in Latin. These plays will therefore have the merit of being the first English interludes."
Polydore Virgil mentions in his book de Rerum Inventoribus, Lib. V. c. ii. that the Mysteries were in his time in English. "Solemus vel more priscorum spectacula edere populo, ut ludos, venationes, recitare comædias, item in templis vitas divorum ac martyria repræsentare, in quibus, ut cunctis, par sit voluptas, qui recitant, vernaculam linguam tantum usurpant." The first three books of Polydore's work were published in 1499; in 1517, at which time he was in England, he added five